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Teaching Questioning Skills to Arm Students for Learning

In the earliest part of my career, I wrote full procedural lesson plans that spelled out to the letter the questions I would ask AND the answers I considered correct.

When the students didn't provide the proscribed answer, I asked helper questions until I elicited the appropriate response.

Man, did I have it wrong!

This is the battle we fight. It demands our full attention. And if we are going to go to battle, we should appropriately arm our learners.

Children are born curious; they have a hunger to learn and a thirst for understanding. In the earlier part of their acquisition of knowledge, they are open and unafraid of failing. They ask questions endlessly, eager to know why and how things work.

Current educational institutions systematically rob curiosity from children, training them to seek one answer, the "right" one.

Unfortunately, while on their predictable adventure to the right of truth, kids often lose interest in the passions that once propelled them. It is our duty to either maintain their natural interest or compel them back to what really matters.

One way we change the level of engagement in our classroom is stop doing all of the asking. Let's put the control back into the students' hands and really teach them how to get the most out of the questions they ask.

Here are some tips for teaching students how to ask good questions:

  • First ask students what they really want to know or find out.

  • Explore the difference between open and closed questions and how closed ones don't really allow for exploration as they are only "yes or no questions".

  • Before we ask students to write their own questions, we can ask students to explore and analyze the questions they see and then categorize them to have a better understanding of what different questions look like. These can serve as models for what to do and what not to do depending on what they find.

  • Bloom's Taxonomy addresses different question starters and the level of depth they will encourage. Provide students a list of these question starters and allow them to explore the kinds of answer they will get by asking each one based on what they learned for the variety of categories they addressed earlier.

  • Ask students to deconstruct the questions they ask, to really understand what it is they are communicating to the world. You can do this with sentence strips, cut up into puzzle pieces. Write the question on the sentence strip and then cut it into pieces word by word, Once they cut up the initial question, they can reconstruct it into a new one.

After students understand the many kinds of questions, it could be a fun exercise to ask students to interview each other the first week of school. In addition to practicing their questioning skills, they will also practice speaking and listening while they get to know each other better. We can then provide students the opportunity to present information in a way that is best suited for their learning (an article, a presentation, a short movie, a podcast).

Questioning will be an essential part of every child's learning. It is a driving force. We must provide students the platform and understanding to investigate their learning environments.

How will you teach students to use questions to fuel their own learning?

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